Atlantic Salmon are not native to Chile. There are no wild salmon runs in Chile, and historically, attempts to acclimatize salmon to the region failed unequivocally. Despite this fact, Chile is the world’s second largest exporter of Atlantic Salmon in the world following only Norway.
As late as 1987, Chile did not export any salmon products, yet within twenty years it reported the export of approximately 200,000 tons. Chile’s ability to become a global supplier of salmon is due to the rapid investment across the whole of the aquaculture industry.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, salmon farming is the fasting growing means of agricultural production globally. Many praise this fact, citing farmed salmon as a far more sustainable alternative to the wild salmon fisheries that are often criticized for their environmental impacts mainly in depleting wild stocks. Within Chile, the industry is located in the Patagonian fjords and lakes of the Chilean Lakes District and on the island of Chiloe. Where employment opportunities may have been few and far between in these regions prior to the introduction of farmed salmon, with its boom the industry created 45,000 jobs. But, at what cost?
Idyllic Presentations v. Unfortunate Realities
Is Chilean Salmon the success story of neoliberalism – a testiment to how to limited regulation has fostered a positive relationship between big buisness and government ultimately benifitting everyday people? Simply put, no.
The industry has been surrounded by controversy since 2007 when a shipment of the eggs were contaminated with infectious salmon anemia (ISA). ISA is an influenza-like virus which when introduced into an aquaculture pen has severe effects due to high transmissibility and fish mortality. ISA decimated the salmon export industry in Chile. Exports fell by 300,000 tons a year from 2006 to 2010, causing 25,000 people employed in the industry to lose their job. The 2007 collapse was covered extensively in the international media and, as noted by scholars, has “had clear economic, social, and political impacts in Chile.” The crisis made apparent the convoluted relationships that exist between the different stakeholders in the salmon industry: international corporations, policy makers, public regulatory agencies, private consultants, local farmers, and residents.
An increase in househould incomes and nutritional education has helped to fuel the increase in consumption of fish by populations across the globe. Largely Chile exports to Japan, the United States, and Europe.
Contextualizing the Salmon Industry’s Rise
Neoliberalism is an economic theory defined as a set of policies “which are concerned with the deregulation of the economy, the liberalization of trade and industry, and the privatization of state-owned enterprises.” These ideologies were prominently seen during the Cold War, when the United States and USSR competed to export their respective political ideologies to countries they termed the “third world” – neoliberalist capitalism in the case of the US and communism in the case of the USSR. Through the covert actions of the CIA, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the US government backed coups and uprisings across Latin America that brought to power pro-American dictators who subscribed to the US’s capitalist ideologies. The effects of the US’s actions were the destabilization of the entire region with lasting effects to this day.
The History of Salmon in Chile
As early as 1885, there were attempts by the Chilean government to bring Atlantic salmon to Chile. At the time these attempts failed largely due to the inability to keep embryos alive during transportation from the United States or Europe. In the early 20th century there was a resurgence in attempts to introduce non-native species of fish to Chilean rivers. These experiments yielded the same results as first attempts. Although several species of trout were able to acclimate to the new ecosystems, salmon populations ultimately were unable to acclimate in a wild context.
The Theory of Acclimatization
The attempts to introduce non-native species in this period were part of the greater narrative of colonialism of the time. They were bred out the theory of acclimatization wherein prominent naturalists figures such as Alfred Russel Wallace encouraged the introduction of non-native species to environments to increase the rich diversity of flora and fauna.
In Chile in 1970, Salvador Allende became the first democratically elected socialist president. His campaign promises embodied the heart of socialism: land reform and nationalization of key industries. In 1973, following a severe economic crisis, the United States covertly backed a coup d’état by the Chilean armed forces and national police. Allende was assassinated and his key advisors and political supporters were subsequently suppressed, imprisoned in concentration camps, murdered and disappeared by the military junta that came to power led by dictator Augusto Pinochet. His subsequent 17-year rule was characterized by state-sponsored violence and the implementation of neoliberal policies focused on deregulation and privatization. These policies were largely pushed by economic advisors educated at the University of Chicago under Milton Freedman in what he termed “the miracle of Chile.”
Ultimately the successful introduction of salmon came during the 1970s with the formation of the Fundación Chile, as an agreement between Pinochet and an America Cooperation whose assets had been nationalized under Allende. Fundación Chile successfully oversaw the creation and management of two salmon hatcheries on Chiloe, signaling the potential for the creation of a large scale aquaculture industry. Pinochet and the subsequent democratic governments, who have been criticized for “consolidating Pinochet’s neoliberal model,” fostered the growth of the industry using neoliberal principals of negotiating favorable trade agreements and limited regulation.
The 2007 Crisis Response
Following the collapse of the industry in 2007, the government brought together representatives from the major aquaculture corporations, private consultants, researchers, NGOs, and regulatory agencies in order to review the environmental indicators that determine the ecosystem health of a farm. By reviewing these indicators, it was a means of ensuring the state could effectively regulate the industry in the future, preventing another ISA outbreak.
A Complex Web of Relationships
The relationships between each of these parties present forms a complex web that is overwhelmingly characterized by distrust, a large contributing factor to why both the government and industry were unable to stop the spread of ISA.
Government agencies distrusted private consultants because of the money they received from private industry. Consultants and researchers distrusted private companies because they often paid them to conduct studies with a particular result in mind, and they distrusted regulatory agencies for being out of touch with the local environments of the farms and lacking the power to effectively regulate.
Ultimately, private industry took control and dictated the major reforms put in place, the creation of a network of “barrios.” These systems grouped farms together in order to create a more universal strategic response to future crises, however they were drawn without consultation of the scientific community. Industry signaled that they were concerned more with the ability to regrow the industry and thereby their profits, rather than promote a health environment for river ecosystems. The negative repercussions of their decisions can be seen in the 2016 environmental and health crisis of the same magnitude and from the same causes as that of 2007 crisis. It is important here to note that the salmon industry’s intentions were driven largely by a desire for sustainabiltiy – sustainability ultimately to drive profits. It was representative of a push by the companies to create a larger narrative of sustainability. This is a prime example of where each of the different stakeholders had a different viewpoint on sustainaibility and how to achieve it.
The most prominent model for sustainable business is arguably seen in the clothing and gear company Patagonia Inc. Most central to the company’s mission is to create products that are truly sustainable from farm, to factory, to store. They also are committed to using a portion of their profits in order to support environmental causes. Thus Patagonia was used as the primary example for a sustainable companies marketing. Looking at the Patagonia Inc. sales website, their mission is made to be apparent to the viewer immediately.
They invoke aspirations for a cleaner, more whole world through the use of environmental imagery. They often capitalizing on the imaginaries behind the name of their brand through the use of breathtaking nature shots atop each page. The navigation bar at the top of the website includes 4 items: shop, activism, sports, and stories. This is emblematic of how Patagonia has capitalized on the image it created for itself to create a profitable company; they present themselves not simply as a clothing retailer, but as a company with a purpose that just happens to also sell clothes. ‘Shop’ is only one of the four main pages they want to bring viewers’ attention to. Right next to it, we see they also want to highlight their activism. Overall the website does not have the same hyper focus on shopping as another clothing company’s site may have. Instead they captivate potential purchasers through creative mediums like documentaries and stories about people who exude a sense of wild, while also being clad in the brand’s gear. They make us want to become the people in the stories we read about, and in that process, they make us want to buy the clothes and gear that Patagonia had outfitted that person with. Patagonia’s marketing is quite clever in this way, yet they do follow through on their word. Their site is filled with data that shows how to company lives out its ethos of sustainability.
The Chilean Salmon Marketing Council
The homepage of the site uses the same striking natural imagery in order to evoke a sense of awe in the viewer. (It is also useful to note the user flows through the website in the exact same manner as with Patagonia Inc). Looking at the navigation bar there are five headers: About Chilean Salmon, About the Chilean Patagonia, Sustainability, and Our Members. The header ‘About the Chilean Patagonia’ is used to evoke the same imaginaries of the Patagonia region. This can be seen in the subcategories of this option: Why Patagonia, the Promise of Patagonia, and the People and Community. The language used, specifically the use of the phrase ‘Promise of Patagonia’, directly plays off the viewers concept of Patagonia as a frontier, similar to that of the language used to describe the American West in the 19th century. Weare made to view salmon from this region as coming from an almost mythical place. At the center of the home screen text reads “Delicious, sustainably raised salmon from the Patagonian region of Chile – a place where nature and nutrition meet.” Here what is most important is the second modifier of salmon used, sustainable. The use of the word twice on the homepage, in the header and then in the text body, as well as the strong reliance on natural images, has the same effect on the viewer as the Patagonia Inc site did. It is made to make us believe that one of the central missions of this council is sustainability.
Given the knowledge of the Salmon industry’s actions following the 2007 collapse of exports due to ISA (mainly their prioritization of growth over sustainability), the knowledge that their strategies ultimately failed to produce a more sustainable industry with the 2016 collapse, and the Salmon Marketing Council’s continued used of sustainability in their marketing, it contributes to a general theme of greenwashing by the industry. Greenwashing can be defined as the conveying the false impression that a company’s products are more environmentally sound then they actually are. This trend in marketing is largely a result of the increase of ‘eco-consumption’ wherein consumers are now concerned with the environmental impacts of the products they use as well as their quality. In the case of the Chilean Salmon industry this greenwashing serves to present to their market (mainly US and Japanese consumers) that the industry prioritizes sustainability, when in fact under the neoliberal policies from which the industry was created they did and still do prioritize capitalizing on the free market and limited regulation to maximize profits ultimately at the cost of a high environmental impact.
Following the 2007 collapse in exports of the Chilean Salmon industry, a very close look has been taken at the practices that led up to the crash. Overwhelmingly it was seen how the salmon industry was able to capitalize on the neoliberalism characteristic of Pinochet’s regime as well as help from US-based multinationals in order to become the second largest exported of farmed salmon in the world. However, the collapse revealed the mistrust existing between stakeholders in the industry and limited analytical capability of the state to effectively regulated the industry, protecting it from crises such as the 2007 ISA outbreak. In the wake of the collapse as stakeholders came together to reexamine what went wrong and how to move forward each came with their own definition of what sustainability meant and how to acheive that vision. The power of private buisness prevailed in the debate and they were allowed to implement their own response plan, the creation of a system of barrios, without the consultation of the scientific community. This system proved weaked against the many environmental issues that come with aquaculture seen in the subsequent 2016 crash. Given this knowledge, the marketing analysis demonstrates the ways in which greenwashing are used in order to mislead consumers in the belief that the farming of salmon is a much sustainable alternative.
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